Last weekend was Brighton’s Fiery Foods Festival, an event that you can imagine is close to my heart. I’m not really invested in the boy-boy machismo of chilli eating competitions and I could do without the live music component of the day, but I am unreasonably excited about wandering from stall to stall, buying jars of this and that spicy condiment, and grazing on hot foods from around the world.
I have to say that this year’s festival was noticably weaker on the street food front. Whereas last year I ate amazing som tam (pounded for me while I watched, with levels of each ingredient open to debate), delicious Nigerian spinach and egusi (not spicy but there was hot sauce available) and more, this year the hot food was a bit insipid. There were stalls of the kind you see at every street event – burgers, sausages and so on – that have nothing to do with fiery foods, and then horrible corporate versions of Mexican food. We did eat some lovely Thai BBQ but I worry that the economic situation is driving out the small businesses that are a huge part of this kind of event.
On the positive side, the stalls selling artisanal ingredients and condiments were a joy. It’s always lovely to meet the people who make foods and in most cases at the festival, that’s exactly who I was talking to. Enthusiastic about their products and happy to talk about suppliers, recipes and more, the makers of these products made for a food blogger’s dream day out. And, of course, these delicious products are all available to buy online. Here are my top five:
The mother-daugher team behind Manjira were completely lovely and eager to pass on favourite recipes for their Hyderabadi pachadis. Their range includes ginger, garlic, onion, tomato and tamarind. They were all delicious but for me it was all about the ginger. Savithri warned me that you had to like ginger, which I suppose is true, but if you do, it has a fantastically bright, light ginger flavour. You can use pachadis like a condiment but they also have loads of suggestions on their website for using them as a base for cooked dishes, soups and salads.
Bim’s is another family business, and Bim and Nicola were on hand at the festival to talk about their modern African food. Their range of sauces is based on mostly West African flavours but rather than copy traditional dishes exactly, they’ve developed new products using African ingredients. The results are really impressive and they’ve won a slew of prizes to prove it. They sell jars of sauce ready to use on meat or veggies, as well as hot sauces and ketchups, but my favourite was the African Chillinut Sauce, which is more of a thick paste. I could imagine stirring it into scrambled tofu, using it as a base for braised meat or, like nam prik pow, spreading it on toast. Also nice to note they’ve made a nut-free sauce for those with nut allergies.
3. Mr Vikki’s
This range looks pretty glossy and commercial but it turns out they’re also a family business, this time based in Keswick. Not so local, but they’re obviously doing well and selling nationally. Mr Vikki’s makes Indian pickles and chutneys plus BBQ sauces, ketchups and so on. I was skeptical at first – it didn’t seem like a company making such a range of products would be so focused on individual flavours – but I was wrong. The lime pickle is super fresh tasting, very limey. It’s not especially hot but it is really bright and not at all bitter. Also good was the chipotle sauce and the banana habañero chutney.
I’ve seen these bright yellow jars in a few Asian shops locally, but Burmese food is much less well-known than other Southeast Asian cuisines, so people might need a push to give them a try. Their website is frankly horrible and looks like it was designed in 1995, which is odd because the product itself is beautifully designed with an visually appealing and instantly recognisable label. Push past the ugly web design and give them a shot: their balachaung is pungent, hot and prawny and if you don’t fancy that, there’s a lovely mango pickle.
Breadtree is determined to wrest the fashionable pork product crown from Spain and their ubiquitous chorizo and bring it back to Italy, where it clearly belongs. The nice man I spoke to was enthusiastic about their Calabrian products, especially nduja (of which much more in my next post). The company works with small artisanal producers in the south of Italy to bring traditional sopressata, lardo and pancetta as well as pastas, sauces and antipasti to the UK. Some products weren’t available to taste, he explained, because you can’t give deadlines to an Italian farmer. I’m saying nothing here, Italian friends, I’ll let you fill in the jokes yourselves…
Aside from the prepared foods, I was also excited to see herbs and chilli plants for sale. The chilli man pissed me off a bit by patronisingly (and wrongly) correcting my pronounciation of ‘poblano’ and then adding to his charming hard sell by telling us he wasn’t sure when Cinco de Mayo was, maybe sometime in April. Er, yeah, cheers, I’ll buy my chillies elsewhere then. However, the herb ladies were much more laid back and I bought some more rau răm to replace the one I killed last year. Not so fiery but perhaps a new fiery foods festival tradition.